Brian Smith: England need more tries – and a plan that goes beyond just bullying the French pack in Six Nations

How a team starts a match says everything about  their approach 

You have to say it’s one hell of a way to start a Six Nations tournament. Every team in the championship has a landmine in front of them – not even Wales, the reigning champions, have an easy road ahead as their leading players try to refocus after giving so much of themselves to the Lions back in the summer, while their administrators continue to tear each other apart on the political front – and for England, this evening’s match in Paris is as dangerous as they come, especially as they are fielding a back division blessed with so little in the way of experience.

The French could implode, of course: never underestimate the pressure they feel when they play in front of that impatient home crowd of theirs. There again, one ridiculously brilliant run from a centre as good as Wesley Fofana could see them explode into form. I know this much: England cannot hope to win the game if their plan does not extend beyond bullying the French pack. They will have to do more than that.

In fact, I’ll go further: anyone wishing to win this season’s title will have to hit double figures on the try count. We know the French have that kind of ammunition if they get themselves right and Ireland, it seems to me, are also equipped to score at the required rate. So too the Welsh, although they do not cross the opposition whitewash quite as often as they should, given the quality of the backs at their disposal. England have yet to prove their capability in this area, having seen their scoring level slip over the last 12 months.

There’s a fair bit I admire about Stuart Lancaster’s side: he’s coached some real togetherness into them and made them very competitive, very hard-nosed and tough to beat. I guess the challenge for them now is to find easier ways of winning by scoring more heavily. This is not straightforward, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, England go into this tournament with a brand new back division long on ambition but very short on caps. Secondly, there just isn’t much space to attack these days.

When I was involved with the national team, we ran in 15 tries in one Six Nations and 13 in another. But things were different back then because the All Blacks and Wallabies, keen to find the best way of beating the Springboks in Tri-Nations rugby, had developed a strategy of playing from deep in their own territory as a means of moving the big Springbok forwards around the paddock. “What’s good for them is good for us,” we thought, and we followed a similar policy. Four or five years on, teams aren’t doing that any more. How often do the New Zealanders kick the ball these days? Lots. How often do they attack from their own half? Not often.

I see some hopeful signs for England, all the same. By going with Danny Care and Lee Dickson as their scrum-halves, they are clearly seeking to bring some tempo to their rugby. That’s good. Equally, it’s encouraging that they’re playing with just the one full-back, rather than two. There was a logic to running Mike Brown and Alex Goode in the same back line, but it left them short of natural, out-and-out finishers and, as a consequence, their attacking game suffered. I also liked the way they fought back against the All Blacks at Twickenham before Christmas, having been badly stung in the opening exchanges. If they can learn to start Tests with the tempo they developed in the middle period of that game with the world champions, the tries will come.

The way I look at it, how a team starts a match says everything about the way they’re approaching the whole of it. If they kick long at the first whistle and settle for a line-out near halfway, that’s one thing; if they kick to contest, to win the ball back immediately, that’s quite another. By doing that, they’re saying: “We’re here to play. We’re coming after you.” It’s a big, bold statement and it sets the tone.

England should certainly be bold, because in Billy Vunipola of Saracens they have a player who could, between now and next year’s World Cup, establish himself as the best No 8 in the international game – a major call, given that the All Blacks have a bloke by the name of Kieran Read in the middle of their back row, but one I’m happy to make. Vunipola is still finding his feet in the Test arena but he’s a force of nature and if England play with a little imagination, they could unleash him in a wide range of ways and really capitalise on a unique set of potentially devastating gifts.

One other thing: I think the Billy Twelvetrees-Luther Burrell partnership in midfield could work. Twelvetrees is everything a coach could want in an inside centre – it’s very rare that you find a No 12 who can carry, kick and pass, so to me he’s rugby gold – while Burrell has the power to give a side some go-forward. On the front foot, you can expect the kind of quick ruck ball that allows you to play with some zip. If you can’t get yourselves over the gain line, you get shut down. It’s that simple. If Burrell comes up trumps, England could drive a sword through French hearts.

Brian Smith is director of rugby at London Irish  and a former England attack coach


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map